First, let me apologize for how far back these commitments happen, there are currently four new faces for this season that I have yet to write about, and five more committed for future years. My goal is to get to all of them before the start of the season, we’ll start with two blueliners that i started writing about towards the end of last season:
The Huskies received two commitments from defensemen in the matter of three weeks in late 2018. The first was Brenden Datema. THG actually had a tip that MTU was interested in someone with Amarillo because Dallas Steward was seen at some games in Texas and even got interviewed by the local team at one point. Datema seemed like the obvious choice, back then, he was on a roll in scoring and he finished the season leading all defensemen in goals, assists, and points (21-39-60) while playing in 58 of the Bulls’ 60 games. The connection was pretty obvious for Datema, being from Grand Rapids and playing for Honeybaked, Victory Honda and Belle Tire before heading off to the NAHL. MiHockey.com had a great qoute from him on his decision:
“I picked Tech because the coaches made it feel like home and they have a very good track record. The campus tour was unbelievable and the guys were really nice and welcoming.”Michael Caples article on MiHockey.com
Last May, Amarillo made it all the way to the Robertson Cup semi-finals in Blaine, Minn. where I took in part of two games in their best-of-three series with Aberdeen and got a chance to meet Brenden’s dad. He was a great guy and was genuinely excited about his son heading to Houghton this fall.
As for the two games I watched. Datema and Bulls were not at their best. I missed the team’s 4-2 win on Friday night and on Saturday when I arrived, the team was up 2-1 but managed to allow a late goal in the second period and never seemed to find their mojo after that despite a first period goal from Datema. The Bulls went on to lose in OT and again the following day. From what I saw, Datema wasn’t afraid to hit anyone and has a dangerous shot from the point. He did struggle a little with his positioning but the Bulls struggled a lot overall during the parts of the series I was able to watch.
The Grand Rapids native is an obvious threat on offense and when he plays, he’s sure to see power play time thanks to his heavy shot. Between him (6-5) and Chris Lipe (6-1), the other new addition for 2019, Michigan Tech will add size to an otherwise mostly short defense. Junior Cooper Watson (6-3) is the only other blueliner that measures over 6 feet tall.
Chris Lipe is another Michigan native. He’s spent the last two seasons playing in Iowa for USHL teams in Des Moines (2017-18) and Dubuque (2018-19). Before that he spent a year in the NAHL for Kenai River (Soldotna, AK). He spent his youth playing for the Fox Motors program, which also produced future Husky, Kyle Vancompernolle (more on him in a future article). Again, MiHockey.com spoke to him about his commitment:
“When I went on a visit I really fell in love with the rink and facilities. I also enjoyed the feel of the town and of the campus. I’m excited to play college hockey because it’s been a goal of mine since I was a kid. It feels really good to have reached that goal with the commitment.”Michael Caples article on MiHockey.com
Lipe doesn’t have the stats of Brendan Datema, even when he played in the NAHL, but he played an average of 59 games the last three seasons so he obviously has a place on a team. His and playing time make it seem obvious that he is more of a physical, stay-at-home defenseman. One surprise when it comes to that is his discipline. He only took 21 minutes in penalties through 62 games last season for Dubuque. Four of his teammates had more PIMs and he was 6th on the team among blueliners in PIM per game played. That’s a good sign that the Rockford, Michigan native knows how to use his size and to his advantage and can recover from mistakes or just does a good job of limiting his mistakes.
As mentioned above, these two were brought in to add size and a more physical style to MTU. With ELEVEN defensemen on the roster it seems likely that Shawhan and his staff might invest some energy in trying to swing between two different styles on the blueline depending on who the Huskies are playing. Lipe, Datema and Watson might dress for one opponent and then only one or maybe none would dress for the next depending on whether the coaching staff thinks the Huskies need to be more physical or can get by with a faster, less physical style.
The first couple months of the season should be telling as to how Shawhan and company plan to balance the expectations and skill sets of their blueline. Lipe and Datema help give flexibility and more options in how to play. It also seems likely that if TJ Polgaze can play his way into a regular player (if still needed on the PK), MTU will probably consistently dress a 7th defensemen.
Featured Image courtesy of Stephen Gassman and Dubuque Fighting Saints.